Recently I was in Guadalajara, walking along Plaza Tapatia with a friend and we started to get hungry. Looking for a place to eat, my friend asked where we should go.
I made my first visit to Guadalajara in 1994 and one of the first places I ever went was Plaza Tapatia. Stretching almost 500 yards, it is an unbelievable place to stroll, people watch and get a small glimpse into the culture of one of the most Mexican of cities, Guadalajara.
Guadalajara, located in the state of Jalisco, is the heart of the Mexican culture. If the image of the rugged cowboy of the US was born in the rugged west, the mariachi and horseback riding caballero is a product of Guadalajara. The plaza, if you look closely, has glimpses into almost every aspect of what it means to embody the Mexican spirit.
I say almost because if you find yourself hungry on the plaza, your food options are severely limited. There are no great restaurants and the ones that do exist offer generally mediocre food. Many of the offerings are standard Mexican fare, things like carnitas and enchiladas, but they lack any creativity.
With this in mind I suggested to my friend that we eat at El Mexicano, a long time location on the plaza and a place where I had eaten many times before. While nothing special, it was always solid, serving generous portions of hot, well cooked food.
As we walked in, the place was nearly empty, a rarity for good restaurants in Mexico at lunch time. No worries I thought, maybe it was just a slow day. We were quickly greeted and then given a table and menus. After a few moments, a waiter came by and took our order.
After getting our drinks, lunch went severely downhill. We ordered plates of carnitas and queso fundido, or melted cheese, with mushrooms. When our food came, it looked the part. It wasn’t until we peeled back a few of the the outer layers that we realized the El Mexicano had become some sort of restaurant creation of a Mexican Wizard of Oz.
El Mexicano looked like a restaurant, felt like a restaurant, and even sounded like a restaurant. That is until you stepped behind the curtain and experienced it first hand.
The queso fundido, a Mexican classic when done well, was lumpy, dry and the mushrooms were literally served right out of a can. The carnitas were warm, but dry and with none of juicy taste I’ve come to expect. The entire food experience gave us the impression that we were eating warmed up leftovers, as opposed to a meal prepared just for us. Sadly, lunch was, for us, inedible.
But perhaps most annoying, because you can always forgive a bad day in the kitchen was the lunch time “mariachi.” He did not know his music! How is it that a restaurant in the central tourist area of Guadalajara, has a mariachi who does not know his music? Worse, he was offended when we did not want to buy his CD. Maybe if he was able to sing more than a few bars of a song, we might have considered it.
As if that was not bad enough, our mariachi and his female friend literally spent the afternoon practicing, at full volume, while people were trying to eat and enjoy lunch. One might think that the restaurant might be upset with this, but the fact is, their manager was taking part, singing along with them.
When the waiter finally came to clear our plates, he took no notice of the leftover food, seeming to want to just get his job done. he brought the bill over with a required tip amount and that was too much for us. We asked to speak to the manager.
After waiting for quite awhile, we gave up and as we were leaving, the manager came up to us to ask what was wrong. I explained that the food was subpar, and that I felt the mariachi was rude in expecting us to buy his CD and unprofessional in practicing while customers were in the restaurant. I also did not appreciate the tip being automatically added to my bill.
He listened politely, apologized and promised the next time would be better, but offered no money back, or even a shot of tequila to smooth things over. On our way out the door, our canned food suspicions were confirmed by the large quantity of mushrooms floating in juice right by the grills.
Next time you’re visiting Plaza Tapatia in Guadalajara and get those hunger pangs, head on over to La Chata, just a couple of blocks away. It is loaded with all of the food I’ve come to know and love in this corner of My Mexico and if my past visits there are any indication, you’re gonna love it!
El Mexicano, Plaza Tapatia, Zona Centro, Guadalajara, Jalisco
Lunch for 2, drinks and tip… about $30.00USD